Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hurricane Katrina and the treatment crisis

In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina decimated the city’s psychiatric services.

In the 16 months since the storm hit, the number of hospital beds has plummeted. Remaining facilities have limited space and people in crisis often end up being treated by – or held in – the city’s emergency rooms until a bed opens up somewhere else. And as for police, “two officers always escort psychiatric patients to emergency rooms, where they often must wait for hours until the hospital can accept them. The wait prevents officers from patrolling.”

Some small measure of relief may be coming in the form of a new psychiatric facility.

"That would be tremendous," [Dr. Joseph ] Guarisco [chairman of emergency medicine at Ochsner Medical Center] said. "Psych is our No. 1 crisis right now in the emergency department. The city's outpatient and inpatient psych capacity was plundered by the storm. We have been inundated with chronic mental illness without any available resources for these patients."
The country overall is facing very similar problems. Just because it took 40 years to reach this crisis nationwide doesn’t mean it isn’t worth addressing just as aggressively.

Our national system was plundered by a different kind of storm, waged not by nature, but by well-meaning advocates who saw all hospitals as negative and all commitment laws as paternalistic.

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